Mammoth meeting bridges the world of geoscience

Over 10,000 assemble in Nice

by Zhenya Gallon

If you weren’t there, you probably know someone who was. Nearly 11,000 geoscientists attended the first Joint EGS-AGU-EUG Assembly in Nice, France, from 6 to 11 April. The meeting included members of the European Geophysical Society, American Geophysical Union, and European Union of Geoscientists. It was truly an international gathering, with participants from every inhabited continent. Even Antarctica was represented in sessions on the unusual split-up of the stratospheric ozone “hole” of 2002.

The entrance hall for the Nice-Acropolis conference center. (Photo by Zhenya Gallon.)

The meeting marked the transformation of the EGS and EUG into the European Geosciences Union. The Europeans invited their North American counterparts to help celebrate the new organization and exchange ideas. The EGU’s co-executive secretaries, Arne Richter and Roland Schlich (who held comparable posts in the EGS and EUG, respectively), were gratified by the packed hallways and meeting rooms, despite SARS concerns and the war in Iraq. “Now we have momentum for the future,” Schlich told the Quarterly.

International synergy

The atmospheric sciences were well represented at the meeting, with familiar topics ranging from atmospheric chemistry to solar physics and weather dynamics. The large gathering also provided an opportunity for international collaborators to discuss interdisciplinary problems such as the 2002 floods in Central Europe, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, biosphere-atmosphere interactions, and paleoclimatology.

The High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research was introduced by Krista Laursen (HIAPER project director, UCAR) and James Huning (HIAPER program officer, NSF). The instrumentation sessions also included talks by several European scientists developing new sensors that might one day fly aboard this high-altitude NSF/NCAR jet.

Huning told meeting participants he expects UCAR’s international affiliates to play a central role in promoting the kind of international collaboration it will take to ensure HIAPER’s success. He also noted the opportunities for economies of engineering and equipment sharing if the German Aerospace Center (DLR) continues its plans to bring a different model of the Gulfstream V jet online. In this situation, he noted, “once you’ve tested once, you’re done [for both aircraft].”

Two ozone holes in one

The ozone hole associated with the polar vortex over Antarctica in late September 2002 exhibited behavior never before observed in the Southern Hemisphere (see below). Three instruments aboard a new European Space Agency satellite caught the action, which was described in several talks and poster sessions by researchers working with the new European Environmental Satellite (Envisat).

On 20 September the ozone hole exhibited its familiar, disc-like shape when seen from above. But by 25 September it had divided as if pinched in the middle into a dumbbell shape. After 30 September, one of the two holes decayed, leaving behind a single, circular disc indicating a lower level of ozone loss than usual. During the event, Halley Bay recorded its warmest stratospheric temperatures since records began there in 1957. At 30 kilometers (18 miles) above the South Pole, temperatures on several days soared up to 20°C (38°F) warmer than at any point during the 1990s. Through ongoing data assimilation work, scientists are hoping to tease out the roles of meteorology and photochemistry. Some investigators are pursuing indicators of natural variability or human-induced climate change in the behavior of the vortex.

Hydrologists took advantage of the meeting to promote focused, worldwide collaboration to stem what they term the crisis of the 21st century: the lack of sustainable water management. The International Association of Hydrological Sciences launched the Decade on Predictions in Ungauged Basins, or PUB, in 2002 to bring resources to bear on the challenge of predicting water flows where there are no or few river gauges.

PUB organizers see a convergence of extreme need with new techniques capable of addressing it by combining modeling with remote sensing. But more focused research on river-basin behavior is needed at a time when the number of gauges continues to fall around the globe due to cost cutting by governments in developing and developed countries alike. Both basic knowledge and applications will benefit from the targeted effort, according to Kuniyoshi Takeuchi, IAHS president, who spoke at a press conference during the meeting. Drawing his examples from the need to rebuild reservoirs in war-ravaged Afghanistan and Iraq, he added, “Water is not only a scientific problem. This is a social problem.”

This ice-breaker on the terrace of the Nice-Acropolis conference center took place on one of the meeting's rare sunny evenings. (Photo courtesy AGU.)

How big is too big?

“People tell me it’s too big,” said Schlich about the gathering. “So I ask them, Why are you here? They tell me it’s the only place in the world you can see everyone.” He noted that, after this year’s bash, next year’s inaugural EGU meeting would be “at human size,” with tighter control over abstract submissions.

Bert Holtslag (Wageningen University, The Netherlands, and past NCAR visitor and affiliate scientist) repeated the “it’s too big” refrain, but also welcomed the chance to meet many U.S. colleagues a bit closer to home. For NCAR’s Laura Pan, the synergy between atmospheric chemists from the United States and Europe resulted in the exchange of many good ideas at the meeting. NCAR colleague Sue Schauffler had attended the EGS meeting in 2001 and was excited to return to Nice. She relished the opportunity to hear from European counterparts: “It’s so good for collaboration.”

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Governance Update

Science Bit